In the heart of downtown Omaha, Nebraska, surrounded by skyscrapers and art museums, sits The Bike Union – a workforce development program for young adults impacted by, or aged out of, foster care.
Utilizing a year-long program, young adults work twenty hours a week at The Bike Union’s retail shop while participating in life skills classes, such as nutrition and financial literacy, which have been tailored to their unique needs.
It’s hard to ignore statistics, as they shed light on the hurdles foster youth face as young adults. As many as twenty percent of foster youth will find themselves homeless when they “age out”. Only 4% will earn a four year college degree, and almost half are unemployed by the age of 24.
Only 4% will earn a four year college degree, and almost half are unemployed by the age of 24.
“With numbers like that, it’s not just job availability – that’s trauma. Imagine if you’re a Young adult who has come through the system – it’s easy to fall through the cracks,” says Miah Sommer, Executive Director and Founder of the Bike Union.
Since being founded in 2015, The Bike Union has served these young adults, focusing on five participants at a time in order to support meaningful, long-lasting impact.
“It’s about effectiveness, not bolstering my numbers by handing out brochures to say I ‘served’ more people. We serve a smaller amount of people, in a deeper way,” shares Miah.
Erick emancipated himself at 18 after entering the foster care system at nine. Having just completed the one-year program, he is celebrating his recent promotion to Shift Manager while attending college to become a Language Arts teacher.
“Without [the Bike Union], I wouldn’t know humility, kindness and honesty. You learn things your family or foster homes never taught you, and they’re patient.”
“I’ve worked in nonprofits before, but it’s not like that. Here, they can work with you, one-on-one, and I wouldn’t be here without this program. It’s not just a normal job, yeah it’s a business, but it’s a family,” shares Erick.
Joining the program in July, Tiffany’s enthusiasm and joy is contagious as she shares talks about her experiences at The Bike Union. In and out of foster care since she was an infant, Tiffany was in and out of the Nebraska foster care system until she was 19, having lived in a total of 34 different foster homes.
“I wouldn’t change it for the world. My experience has made me who I am and brought me here. Without it, I wouldn’t know humility, kindness and honesty. You learn things your family or foster homes never taught you, and they’re patient,” Tiffany shares.
In addition to the development program, The Bike Union is a full-service bike and coffee shop, with the youth as staff. Offering everything from refurbished bikes to top of the line Marin mountain bikes available for sale.
To have people understand that they can spend their money not just locally but in a way that has a deep impact on too often overlooked individuals within their community.